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James Barbour (1845–1943)

by Liv Barbour

My father, Ross Barbour, started talking to me about our family history recently, as he had started an Ancestry online profile and had begun researching our family history.  He sent me an article he obtained from Trove which was featured in the Queensland Times on Tuesday, 27th July, 1943.  The article detailed the passing of my great-great-grandfather, the late James Barbour Senior, of Glenken, Biarra.  It also detailed some of the varied and interesting highlights of his life.[1]  Biarra is situated roughly 18km from the local township of Esk, Queensland, and about 15km from ‘Kipper’, where I grew up.  ‘Kipper’ was the name of our property and ‘Glenken’ was the name of my uncle Kenneth Barbour’s property, situated at Biarra.  We would pass Uncle Ken’s house every day on our way to school in Esk.  I always knew my family had a long history with Esk and its surrounds, I was reminded of it as we drove out of town every day and passed Barbour Street, on our way home to ‘Kipper’.  Other tell-tale signs were ‘Barbour Memorial Park’ and the grave of my Grandfather’s sister, who died in infancy at ‘Kipper’, and was buried under a big tree back behind the old sheds.  I’ve thought about our family history on and off over the years, particularly when I’ve gone back to the Esk cemetery to visit my sister’s grave, which is surrounded by the names of fourteen other Barbours, including James Barbour Senior.[2]  This narrative is about the life and times of James Barbour Senior, the first Barbour in my lineage to set foot on Australian soil.  

The Great Hunger
In 1845, The Irish Potato Famine was about to besiege Ireland.  The Irish ‘Lumper’ potato, introduced by the aristocracy one hundred years earlier, was a staple of the poor and heavily relied upon to feed a significant number of the Irish population.  As the blight set in and the crops began to fail, many of the tenant farmers and their families were starving and unable to pay their rent.  This continued year after year until 1852, during which time the famine claimed the lives of almost a million people, with at least that many displaced and forced to leave their native soil.[3]  A short distance across the North Channel, James Barbour was born in Balmaclellan, in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, Scotland on the 30th April, 1845.

He was the illegitimate son of Margaret Heughan and whilst a father was not listed in the Parish records, the surname states Barbour.[4] James’ parentage can only be inferred from birth, census and death records between the period of 1841 – 1861.  His mother Margaret Heughan, sixteen at the time, lived at Knocklay Cottage in 1841 and was listed as a female servant. Listed as agricultural laborers, James (68) and Janet Barbour (40), along with their daughter Elizabeth (7), also appear to be living at Knocklay Cottage in 1841.  By 1851, James and Janet were living in Balmaclellan Village with Elizabeth and two grandson’s, James and John.  After James’ birth in 1845, Margaret disappears from the records. By all accounts, young James was orphaned at the age of 8 after both his grandfather and grandmother passed away (1853 and 1852 respectively) and Margaret either abandoned the child or passed away.  The circumstances of how James came to live with his grandparents are not entirely clear but the census records paint a provocative picture.  

The potato blight found its way to the Highlands of Scotland soon after James was born and whilst the effects were not felt as devastating as they were in Ireland, it led to the Highland crofters (similar to the tenant farmers of Ireland) losing a major food source and income.[5]  This spurred an exodus from the Highlands toward the increasingly industrial Lowland towns of the South, such as Kircudbright, as people look for any form of employment they could.[6]  However, with an influx of Irish settlers escaping the poverty of Ireland already flooding these parts, poverty was rife.  During this period, it was common in Scotland, for orphans to be lodged out with local farmers and James became a stable boy at Hillowton Farm in Crossmichael.[7]  

Royal Dane
At the age of 22, with Scotland in poverty and facing the reality of a lifetime of enduring hardship, James, like so many before him, emigrated.  He boarded the Royal Dane (Image 2), for the Australian colony of Brisbane on July 2, 1869.  James, one of the one-hundred and sixty-five assisted immigrants, set sail along with 408 other souls, most of whom were English and Irish, James being only one of 23 Scots on board.[8]  He arrived in the port of Brisbane on September 25, 1869, after eighty-five days at sea.[9]  It is hard to imagine how James felt coming from the farmlands of Scotland, surviving the long and arduous ocean voyage in cramped conditions, to finally arrive at his destination with not much else but the hope of a new and prosperous life.  

Now that he was ashore, he had nothing to lose and everything to gain.  With a steely determination he set off, swag across his back, to Eton Vale Station on the Darling Downs to work as a stockman.  It wasn’t long before James got wind of the great “tin rush” happening at Quart Pot Creek on the Darlings Downs, now known as Stanthorpe.[10]  James spent two years in the tin mines of Stanthorpe before enlisting in the Queensland Police Force on 6th November, 1872.[11]  This was the real beginning of the new and prosperous life he had probably spent most of his journey at sea dreaming about. 

A long career and a big family
The Queensland Police Force was founded in 1864, five years after Queensland separated from New South Wales, with 287 officers serving a population of over 61,000 people.[12] After James enlisted in 1872, he was first posted to Beenleigh where he spent a number of years.  Whilst stationed at Beenleigh, he met Sarah Gill of Ipswich whom he married on 6th March 1877.  His first son James Junior was born on 14th September 1877. Most of his policing career was spent at the Wivenhoe Station, a total of fourteen years, where he carried out his duties on horseback over formidable countryside.  In the reporting of his passing, the Queensland Times described his service as follows:

He was a good bushman, however, and possessed of a sturdy, indomitable disposition, he never allowed discomforts to deter him from carrying out the most difficult tasks. His experiences in the force, especially in the Wivenhoe district, were typical of the days of hardy pioneering. Such experiences also included contact with some of the bush rangers of the times, and the young police officer acquitted himself well in the apprehension of several notorious characters. [13]

During this time James acquired selections of land at Biarra, recognising it as fertile and good quality grazing country to support a growing family.   This particular area was also populated with fellow Scots, reminding him of his youth in the ‘bonnie land’.  In fact, in an homage to his homeland, he built his homestead and named it ‘Glenken’ [14], drawing on the remarkable similarities this area shared with the Glenkens of Scotland.  

With a handful of other pioneering families, the Barbours, established a small town with a school, commonly known as Kipper school as well as Biarra school, a library and a dairy in the area.  Biarra was also well known for its sporting teams, particularly cricket and tennis.[15] James stocked his land with cattle and also bred sporting ‘kangaroo’ dogs. He entered and won many prizes at both local and state shows for his cattle, produce and sporting dogs and became a well-known and respected member of the show society.   In his 32 years of service to the Queensland Police James and his wife Sarah also created a small community of their own, raising ten sons and two daughters.  James Senior retired from the Police Force and took up grazing cattle full time whilst also dedicating some time to establishing his children on the land he had come to love. His eldest son James Junior, my great-grandfather, followed in his father’s pioneering footsteps and also became a prominent citizen of the Esk district.  James Junior was a grazier like his father and established ‘Kipper’, where I was raised.  He was also a Shire Councillor for 21 years and Chairman of the Esk Shire Council for 12 years.  The Barbours’ of Biarra were known to be one of the great agricultural families in the area.[16] 

Sons to War and life on the farm
On the 4th August 1914, the British Empire declared war on Germany and her allies. Three-hundred thousand enlisted to serve in World War I from an Australian population of not quite 5 million.  Of these, 60,000 would not make it home and 150,000 were either gassed, wounded, or taken prisoner. James and Sarah watched four of their sons enlist to fight in this campaign, fortunately, they all returned home.[17]  Whilst his sons were away fighting, James busied himself with local affairs and farming and establishing a rifle club on his land for the local Legion of the Frontiersmen.[18] He also helped establish and heavily donated to the local Patriotic Fund.  Not one to sit idly by, James continued exhibiting in the local shows, displaying the fine produce and animals he cultivated at ‘Glenken’, winning many awards both in the smaller and the Royal National Show.[19]  After the Great War, James youngest son Walter enlisted in 1940 for the Second World War.  Lance Seargent Walter Barbour was captured by the Japanese in 1943 and held a prisoner of war in Malaya.[20] Walter was not yet retuned home when James Senior passed away at his home ‘Glenken’ on the 22 July, 1943 at the grand age of 96.[21] 

In the end
Firstly, I would like to acknowledge and pay my respects to the Yuggera and Wakka Wakka people who lands my family settled upon.  In researching James’ life, it is hard not to think about the people who were displaced, harmed and killed in the settling of this land and country. This is especially true when reading about the way land was divvied up and handed out to immigrants looking for a new place to call home.  I also understand that society and culture were very different in those days and James was a product of and participant in that culture, good and bad.  I do admire his determination and grit, particularly in light of his turbulent and unfortunate early years, losing so many family members at such a young age and being orphaned.  To set out from the only home you’ve known and voyage across an ocean for the first time, with little more than the clothes on your back is a remarkable achievement.  It is clear that James was an intelligent man, serving in the Queensland Police for three decades.  He was also a shrewd businessman, acquiring good parcels of land to cultivate and establish his family in the Esk region.  He was a well-respected and valued member of society with a long legacy.  I have very fond memories growing up at ‘Kipper’ and playing at Biarra.  That place is engrained in my DNA and I still, to this day, have a very strong connection to and sentiment for the town of Esk.  


  • 30/04/1845 BARBOUR, JAMES (Old Parish Registers Births 856/ 20 64 Balmaclellan) Page 64 of 107 | ScotlandsPeople.” ScotlandsPeople. Accessed October 26, 2021.
  • Austin Bourke, P. M. “Emergence of Potato Blight, 1843-46.” Nature 203, no. 4947 (1964): 805–8.
  • Davis Cantwell, John. “Account of the Irish Potato Famine” 30, no. 3 (2017): 382–83.
  • Donnelly, James S. “The Great Irish Potato Famine.,” 2012, 456.
  • Ealing-Godbold, Christina. “The Great ‘Tin Rush’ of Stanthorpe | State Library Of Queensland.” State Library of Queensland, 2014.
  • Gray, Malcolm. “The Highland Potato Famine of the 1840’s.” Economic History Review 7, no. 3 (1955): 357.
  • Kerr, Ruth S. Confidence and Tradition : A History of the Esk Shire. Esk: Esk Shire Council, 1988.
  • Knox, W W. “A History of the Scottish People: Poverty, Income and Wealth in Scotland 1840-1940,” 1960.
  • “Museum | QPS,” 2021.
  • “Somerset Regional Council - Cemetery Register Information.” Accessed October 26, 2021.
  • “Sturdy Pioneer.” Queensland Times (Ipswich, Qld) July 27, 1943.
  • “The Other Famine: Scotland and the Potato Blight.” Accessed October 27, 2021.
  • Vaughan, Géraldine. “The Irish Famine in a Scottish Perspective 1845-1851.” Cahiers Du MIMMOC 12, no. 12 (April 1, 2015).
  • “Virtual War Memorial | Colin Walter BARBOUR.” Accessed October 29, 2021.


[1] “Sturdy Pioneer,” Queensland Times (Ipswich, Qld) July 27, 1943 p 2.

[2] “Somerset Regional Council - Cemetery Register Information,” accessed October 26, 2021,

[3] James S. Donnelly, “The Great Irish Potato Famine.,” 2012, 456; John Davis Cantwell, “Account of the Irish Potato Famine” 30, no. 3 (2017): 382–83,

[4] “30/04/1845 Barbour, James (Old Parish Registers Births 856/ 20 64 Balmaclellan) Page 64 of 107 | ScotlandsPeople,” ScotlandsPeople, accessed October 26, 2021,

[5] Malcolm Gray, “The Highland Potato Famine of the 1840’s,” The Economic History Review 7, no. 3 (1955): 357,; P. M. Austin Bourke, “Emergence of Potato Blight, 1843-46,” Nature 203, no. 4947 (1964): 805–8,; “The Other Famine: Scotland and the Potato Blight,” accessed October 27, 2021,

[6] Géraldine Vaughan, “The Irish Famine in a Scottish Perspective 1845-1851,” Cahiers Du MIMMOC 12, no. 12 (April 1, 2015),

[7] W W Knox, “A History of the Scottish People: Poverty, Income and Wealth in Scotland 1840-1940,” 1960,; 1861 Scotland Census, Parish: Crossmichael; ED: 4; Page: 9; Line: 21; Roll: CSSCT1861_146,

[8] "Shipping." Brisbane Courier, 27 September 1869:  27 Oct 2021 <>.

[9] "Shipping." Brisbane Courier

[10] Christina Ealing-Godbold, “The Great ‘Tin Rush’ of Stanthorpe | State Library Of Queensland,” State Library of Queensland, 2014,

[11] QP Book of Names 1864 - 1974:

[12] “Museum | QPS,” 2021,

[13] “Sturdy Pioneer,” Queensland Times

[14] Queensland Country Life (Qld.), 1 August 1935, page 1 

[15] Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald  (Qld), 29 September 1896, page 2 

[16] Ruth S Kerr, Confidence and Tradition : A History of the Esk Shire (Esk: Esk Shire Council, 1988),

[17] “Sturdy Pioneer,” Queensland Times

[18] Our Toogoolawah Letter: Queensland Times (Ipswich, Qld), 11 March 1914, page 3

[19] “Sturdy Pioneer,” Queensland Times (Ipswich, Qld)

[20] “Virtual War Memorial | Colin Walter BARBOUR,” accessed October 29, 2021,

[21] Death at 96 years: Queensland Times (Ipswich, Qld), 23 July 1943, page 2; “Sturdy Pioneer,” Queensland Times

Original Publication

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Citation details

Liv Barbour, 'Barbour, James (1845–1943)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 25 May 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


30 April, 1845
Balmaclellan, Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland


22 July, 1943 (aged 98)
Biarra, Queensland, Australia

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